Wednesday, October 13, 2010
How to You Escape Negative Emotion and Access Good Thinking?
According to neuro-anatomists, while the thinking brain matures with age and experience, the emotional brain never matures. Thus, we have two-year-old tantrums of infant rage, repeated straight through life by those who don’t know any better. Not just ten-year old tantrums either. We’ve all read about 40-year-olds in road rage, and parents at kid league football games committing mayhem.
The other important thing to know about our two brains — for those who don’t want to allow themselves to stay stuck in rage, depression or social anxiety,— is that the emotional brain, the modern equivalent of our primordial survival instinct, the subcortex, triggers all by itself. But unfortunately this is not true of the thinking brain which is supposed to come to our aid in these horrific situations.
The thinking brain, the neocortex, MAY very well activate automatically as a result of learned association. The brain works by learned association (think “salt” and the thought “pepper” pops up; think “up” and the thought “down” activates). But, on the other hand, it may NOT, too. In order to be absolutely sure your brain goes in the direction that would be most helpful in any difficult situation, one must call upon the thinking brain as an act of will.
Here’s where that old saying, “freedom of the will” is not just an ancient platitude. Your brain is your most obedient servant. But you have to know how to direct it. If you don’t know how it works, you can unwittingly give your brain instructions that send it whirling into a brain place you don’t want to go. Like rage, fear, social anxiety and depression, all courtesy of your instinctual emotional subcortex.
Getting troubled by these emotions is the very thing that should remind you of your freedom of the will. “Hey,” you can say to yourself. “I’m really upset. I better get out of my subcortex and into my neocortex RIGHT NOW.” There is never any fear. anxiety or depression in the neocortex.
When you are assailed by anxious fear — and remember, blame is the way we avoid feeling the painful feeling of fear. So even if you are not in a state of fear; if you are into blame and jealousy and mad at the world (to avoid feeling the pain of your fear), say this to yourself. “What can I do to help myself in this adverse situation?” This is the way to get yourself out of the subcortex and into the thinking faculties of the neocortex.
It is not easy to do, or everybody would be rational, laid-back vessels of sweetness and light. But we’re not all sweetness and light. We’re frequently upset. And because the emotional brain is instinctual and houses our psychological defense system, we are scripted to pay attention to it first. That’s why it’s good to have second thoughts about things.
It’s not easy to turn away from painful and overwhelming emotion when we just don’t know what to do next. Unchecked emotion freezes us in old holding patterns like denying, blaming, withdrawing, and throwing tantrums. That’s the very meaning of emotion. e-motion, no motion, we’re frozen in fear, without a means of going forward.
Emotion is the easiest thing in the world to do because it’s an instinct, not volitional behavior. Rational thinking takes more effort. That’s the bad news. But the good news is that you don’t have to know exactly what to do next in order to help yourself.
Your thinking brain has everything necessary in its memory banks to help you. You just need to jumpstart the process by asking your thinking brain to help you, by having those second thoughts (instead of just banging into that car that just took your parking space), by saying to yourself, “Now, hold on, what can I do to help myself here? What is a positive option?” When you have asked your brain a question, it will do its very best to come up with an answer for you. And it's usually a better answer than road rage.
When you turn away from your emotional brain and ask yourself what positive, small thing can you do to help yourself in this bad situation, your brain will come up with something. You can trust your own rational brain to come up with something that will be better than being upset and afraid or angry. There is always something more appropriate than fear and upsetness to do.